Keti Goderdzishvili 



Pagan Pantheon of Old Kartli and Overcome of It by Christianity according to “Life of St. Nino”


Keywords: Pagan Pantheon; Old Kartli; Christianity; St.Nino; Divine Miracles


   According to the oldest Georgian writings and other sources of material culture, it is evident, that Christianity appears in Georgia with the background of historically existed religion imaginations. These imaginations aren’t alike: This is Georgian paganism, idol-worship or luminary-worship, which is confluence with fire-worship, Mazdaism. Supposedly, Mazdaism was the official religion of the Royal Court in Kartli, when Christianity appeared there.  The witness of this fact is the existence of pantheon of Georgian pagan gods in “Life of St. Nino”. Gods, which are presented in this work, have some resemblance with Zoroastrian deities and their worship in Georgian reality is confirmed since earlier time. It is evident, that Christianity, from the moment of appearance in Georgia, at the same time opposed with these two sorts of Paganism: Georgian Paganism and Persian Mazdaism. That is why the elements of polemics toward these two religion seemed to appear together and by the same way.

     Our interest is drop toward such kind Georgian pagan idols, which may be weren’t of Georgian origin and were brought from other countries, but they existed in Georgian reality, were mixed with the oldest pagan traditions of Kartli and those, with whom the opposition  of  Christianity ideal happened concretely in Kartli. You can find very interesting material about them in “Life of St. Nino” and in Georgian historical “Chronicles”.

     In original, Georgian hagiography work “Life of St. Nino”, we meet with pagan gods, which were the subjects of worship for Georgian people living in  Kartli before Christianity adoption there. It is remarkable, that in this work we can clearly see polemics with pagan idols: physically and with the help of divine miracles. For pagan Georgians, several idols seemed to be of Georgian origin and some of them were cults, which were brought from other country. By “Life of St.Nino”, these gods are: Armaz, Zaden, Gats, Ga (Gaim).

    By this story, when Nino came in Kartli, she met fishermen near Paravani Lake, who  told Nino, that they were from Mtskheta, where kings are kings and gods are gods. By these words we can understand, that during the period of Nino’s appearance in Kartli, there was polytheism there. Nino saw people, who were worshippers of strange gods, fire, stones, trees and others (Monuments of old Georgian hagiography literature 1963:92).

     Firstly, from Georgian pagan pantheon which is presented in “Life of St. Nino”, we must drop our attention to the pagan god - Armaz. The idol of Armaz, which by story saw St. Nino when she came in Kartli, was standing on the mountain of Armaz and presented a fighting man with copper armour and golden helmet, with spear in hand. Armaz seemed to be sincretive god, which had functions of the highst god. By population of Kartli, Armaz  seemed to be a god of: heaven, thunder, rain and plants, had functions of fighting god also. During a festive celebration days toward Armaz, which took place usually in summer, with participation of Royal family of Kartli, streets of Mtkheta were decorated with numerous colored lengths and decorations of flowers. Population of Mtskheta took a walk in these colored streets at that period. This event is described with evidence in “Life of St. Nino” ( Monuments of old Georgian hagiography literature 1963:93).

        By historical chronicle  “Life of  Kings”, the maker of  Armaz idol seemed to be king Parnavaz, who is nominated as a heir of the first Georgian king Azon and at the same time he seemed to be the first king of Georgian, national Royal Dynasty.  By chronicles, he was a king of Kartli in the early years of III century (Kartlis Tskhovreba 1955:21). Georgian scientist R. Baramidze thinks, that one chapter from “Life of Kings” by Leonti Mroveli, is an original work from Georgian pagan period. This chapter seemed to be “Life of Parnavaz” (Baramidze 1979:10 ).

     By the opinion of scientist N.Marr, construction of the idol of Armaz-Ormuzd on  the  mountain of Armaz, shows establishment of Persian religion in Kartli. Genarally, N.Marr hopes, that in old Georgian works, partially in ”Life of St.Nino”, besides  traditional and oldest Georgian pagan idols, Persian gods are also nominated. From Persian gods, Armaz( Armenian Armazd, Persian Ormuzd or Ahura mazda) takes a very important place in Georgian pagan pantheon.  By “Life of St.Nino” Armaz id  pretended to be  the main divine of Kartli. N. Marr thinks, that may be Georgian pagan gods were presented Georgian kings, because kings made idols for themselves, as it happened in Parnavaz’s case. People began their adoration as if they were gods. If we think that like Armaz ( Armazd, in old terminology form), Parnavaz is the later term of  Parnavazd, in this last case, we could find out superlative degree  of  brilliant. Such kind epithet is equal and reasonable for Ahuramazda, which is known as holder of “khvarna”, it means high divine brilliance (Marr 1901:3).

     S. Makalatia and K.Kekelidze have their points of view about the issue of Armaz. They were first scientist-initiators, who tried to search parallels for Armaz, not only by etymology, by structure of description. According to this structure, they found Persian idol Mythra, in “Mykhr-Iashts”(Makalatia 1927:189). In K.Kekelidze’s opinion, Georgian people knew Mythraism. Firstly, Georgians had close contacts with the countries of Small Asia.  Secondly, the same religion of Armaz, Ahuramazda in Sasanid period was State religion in both countries, in Persia and in Kartli. Thirdly, ceremonies of Mythraism were left in Georgia for a long time. K.Kekelidze hopes, that for mazdaism idol-worship was strange thing, because for him, Mazdeans hadn’t ever made idols of Ahura Mazda or Armaz.  By “Life of St.Nino”, we know, that in period when Christianity entered in Kartli, idol of Armaz was situated in Mtskheta, with an attribute of fighting man, as a chapel of their ancestors. By legend, afterwards, Armaz was destroyed by hail and thunder.( ) N.Marr and Iv. Javakhishvili explained this circumstance, concerning the issue of Armaz, as degeneration and change of Mazdaism in Georgian way. K.Kekelidze hopes, that annalist wrongly called Armaz to the idol, which really presented appearance of Mythra.( Kekelidze 1945:350).

        Another god from the pagan pantheon of old Kartli is Zaden. By “Life of St. Nino”, both idols: Armaz and Zaden had chapels at the same place, near Mtskheta, in Rabad, or in Armaz. (This information we have from old Georgian historical chronicles). Generally, we haven’t much information on Zaden. By historical chronicles we know, that Zaden was a god of crop productivity and Zaden as Armaz seemed to be Persian idol of old Kartli Pagan Pantheon. By “Life of Kings”, king Parnajom, heir of Mirvan, built a fortress for Zaden and made an idol by the name Zaden(Kartlis Tskhovreba 1955:22). “Mokcevai Kartlisai” gives just the same information on Zaden. By historical chronicles, making an idol of  Zaden afterwards was followed by building a fence around it as it happened in case of Armaz.

      In old Georgian hagiography writing, “Life of Iohan Zedazneli”, is mentioned a fact, that idol-worshippers made a chapel on the mountain of Zaden, where they held sacrifice ceremonies. In scientist N.Marr”s opinion, Zaden is identified with Zoroastrian “Yazat” of “Avesta” which means kind genius, especially with Mythra. By N.Marr, Mythra is the most important god in Persian religion after Ahura mazda and accordingly, Zaden is a Persian idol standing after Armaz in Georgian pagan pantheon. In “Avesta” Zaden(Mythra) is nominated near Ahura mazda. In N.Marr’s opinion, Mythra like Ormuzd is a holder of highst divine brilliance. Zaden has a title, which is equal to the name of Georgian king Parnajom. By Georgian historical writings, this Parnajom was a king, who built many idols of Zaden-Mythra, which were holders of this rank. By the opinion of N.Marr, supposedly, Parnajom really was a king of Kartli, or in other case this Parnajom, who is nominated in a definite part of “Mokcevai Kartlisai” is simply personification of Zaden-Mithra epithet.(Marr 1903:5).

      In “Life of St.Nino” we read, that in right of Armaz was placed a golden idol Gats and in left of Armaz was situated a silver idol Gaim(Ga). In this hagiography work, these gods are nominated as old Georgians gods ( Monuments of old Georgian hagiography literature 1963:83). King of Kartli, Mirian and queen Nana called them their father’s gods. By “Life of St. Nino”, we can find out their gender. They are male divines.  Different editions of “Mokcevai Kartlisai” present them as deities, which are searchers of mysteries. By N.Marr, in fact, there are neither any personal or geographical names in Kartli, which are communicated with these deities nor any celebrations dedicated to them. They aren’t mentioned even during vow.  It is senseless to search them in old Georgian popular legends. May be these names appeared in Georgian Literal work  in scholastic way (Marr 1903:7). “Life of St. Nino” calls them “idols of their fathers”, but this literal piece doesn’t indicate their history. Other historical works complete these gaps.

      By Georgian Chronicles, Azon, who was a son of Iered from Macedonia, relative of Alexander from Macedonia, who appointed him as a Patrik of Georgia, abolished  Alexander’s will and opposite of  luminaries worship and unvisible god, he made two silver idol Gats and Gaim and became idol-worshipper. The author of “Mokcevai Kartlisai” supposed, that these facts weren’t indicators of Georgian origin of these gods and tried to nationalize king Azon. By this monument, Azon is the first king in Mskheta and therefore sun of Georgian king Aran. By N. Marr, afterwards notifications about these deities, as Georgian gods entered also in other monuments. It is evident, that the authors of historical and literal source, consciously tried to give to these gods a special, remarkable national meaning. (Marr 1903:8).

       In Georgian science, there are different scientific views, on the issue of origin of Gats and Gaim. One group of Georgian scientists who work on the issue of pagan pantheon of Kartli have similar position about the origin of these deities. By the opinion of: I.Javakhishvili, S.Janashia and G.Melikhishvili, they were local Georgian idols. G.Melikishvili remarked, that notification of “Mokcevai Kartlisai” on the issue of  immigration process of Georgians fathers from Arian Kartli, distinguishs two group in Georgian pagan pantheon: One of them, idols are comers from Arian Kartli( Gats and Gaim) and the locals (Armaz and Zaden)(Melikishvili 1959:13). Several scientists communicate Gats and Gaim with close Oriental sources. 

       In N.Marr’s opinion, Gats and Gaim were Semit gods, which names appeared in Georgian literal sources by the way of books and afterwards, they presented as Georgian gods in them. N.Marr tried to explain their etymology also. By their origin, M.Tsereteli, belongs them to small Asia, but with slight difference with Marr. For his point of view, Georgian Gats was Yat( this one was male god of Syria, the same god of small Asia, Atis). Gaim for his opinion was Khetian  god, which went to Semit pantheon)(Marr 1903:8).  By G.Giorgadze, Gats and Gaim belong to Khetian and Luvian universe. For his mind, synonym to Gats is Khetian Khats, which was a guard of Taros( Giorgadze 1985:148).

         Georgian young scientist, V.Vatsadze thinks, that Gats and Gaim are idols, which were brought in Kartli by Georgian’s ancestors and afterwards they were settled among other idols in local, pagan pantheon of Kartli. V.Vatsadze drops attention for the fact, that by “Life of Kings”, Armaz is depended with Persian universe, when at the same time, in”Life of St.Nino”, Gats and Gaim are gods of old Georgians ancestors. By historical source we know, that when Armaz became a King of Kartli, he made several reforms. Besides, he made a religion reform and built an idol of Armaz. In this historical piece, we have no information about Gats and Gaim. In “Life of St. Nino” two idols: Gats and Gaim situated in right and left sides of the idol Armaz. By Vatsadze’s mind, when Parnavaz became a king of Kartli, he left Gats and Gaim at Georgian pagan pantheon, as they were Georgian’s ancient idols. Afterwards, they mixed with the idol of Armaz. So, it seemed to happen Georgian-Persian religion confluence. V.Vatsadze thinks, that these issues, haven’t enough explained to decide Georgian origin of Gats and Gaim. In later folk legends, it is unable to meet gods of such names. We don’t know any chapel dedicated to these idols, there aren’t any places in Kartli, which are communicated with Gats and Gaim, in difference with  Armaz and Zaden. By V.Vatsadze, we can find out their etymology in Georgian vocabulary, because “Life of St.Nino” calls them gods of old Georgians. V. Vatsadze hopes, that name - Gaim in different editions of “Life of Kartly” mentioned differently: Gaima, Gim, Gaim, Gaiam, Ga. By  the Dictionary of Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani, Gaim has different meanings: to become a king, to become citizen, to give something to somebody, evilness and etc (Orbeliani 1991:67). V.Vatsadze hopes, that explanation the etymology of Gats is easier. This may be in taught with - illumination. For scientist’s mind, answer to concrete question we must search again in old Georgian literal and historical writings. By this information, one of these gods was golden idol, another was silver one and they were brought in Kartli by king Azon. In several parts of literal and historical works, they both are presented as silver idols. By the international symbolism, it is evident, that in metal symbolism silver is confluence with the moon. Gold in earlier stage was associated with the sun and for this association gold was a symbol of male initial. So, by “Life of St.Nino” Gats is presented as male, golden idol, which by symbolism, is corresponding to the sun and male initial. In several sources, Gaim  is presented  as golden idol.  In V. Vatsadze’s opinion, it is difficult to decide either Gaim is a golden idol, or Gats. Answer to this question, we must find in symbolism of male initial, golden idol Gats, (which is associated with the sun) and in etymology, which by Vatsadze is connected with illumination. “Life of St.Nino” gives useful information about deity functions of these idols. Different editions of “Mokcevai Kartlisai”, call them “ Investigators  of secrets”. By Armenian translation of “Life of Kartli”, we find out, that these idols were sun illuminators, rain and fruits givers. It is evident, that different historical monuments give different explanations of these idols. V.vatsadze searchs parallels for these idols in Armenian pagan pantheon, because he sees parallels of Georgian deities: Armaz and Ainina, in Armenian Aramazd, Anait, Nane there. Still,  in Armenian pantheon and in Armenian writings, we couldn’t find idols with name: Gats and Gaim. We hope, that it is normal, because these idols were gods of Georgian ancestors by the information of literal work.(Vatsadze 2006:279).

       For complete realizing the etymology of these idols, we must think about Armaz idol in   different way, near which, by “Life of St. Nino” were situated:  Gats and Gaim. In old Armenian translation of “Life of  Kartli”, all the same phrases are used in connection with Gats and Gaim  as they are demonstrated in other editions in connection with Armaz and Zaden. We know, that several scientists connect Armaz with Ahuramazda, Taros or with moon divine Armas. K.Kekelidze communicates Armaz with Mythra. By “Life of St. Nino”, we know that Armaz nearby had two idols: golden Gats and Silver Gaim. By “Mychr-iashts”, Mythra also is presented with two follower god:. Srosha and Rashnu and they help Mythra in fighting with enemy. According to the Persian mythology, Srosha is a soul of cogency and order. His aim is to abolish sin in believers and save them from evil forces.  For this purpose, Srosha wears war attributes, like Armaz (Mythra) has. Afterwars a myth spread about Sroha and Rashnu (followers of Mythra). They appeared with Mythra as judges against souls of deads in Chinvant Bridge. Rashnu appears as a soul of justice, who with Srosha and Mythra is one of judges on dead’s souls. He manifests good and evil creatures among them. In “Mikhr-iashtas” Mythra usually illustrated with follower divines: Kauto and Kautopat. They held torchs in their hands and personificated stars of morning and evening. If we agree to K.Kekelidze’s view about similarity by structure in description of Armaz-Mythra, we can easily see parallel with Gats and Gaim with Srosha and Rashnu or Kauto and Kautopat in spite of, the divines by these names are strange for Georgian Pagan pantheon, wrighting sources and popular folklore. In V.Vatsadze’s opinion, comparison of divine functions of Gats and Gaim with Srosha and Rashnu approach us to the idea, that Gats and Gaim have functions of judges and justifiers, like Srosha and Rashnu. We can also make such parallels with Kauto and Kautopat, which present rising sun and moon. It is noticeable, that, near divine Mythra, Armenian literal pieces nominate two follower divines: Areg Akn and Lus Inn. First’s name means: eye of sun and considered a symbol of mail gender.  Luss Inn is a moon, which is a symbol of female gender, may be Kauto and Kautopat are similar by functions to these Armenian divines, which were followers of Mythra. By Georgian and Armenian pagan pantheon, it is evident, that their functions were not strange. We think, that synonym to Gats is Areg Akn, and synonim to Gaim is Lus Inn, in case, if we agree that Gaim was a silver idol and Gats was golden one (Vatsadze 2006:280).

      Historically it is well known, that before king Azon, Kartli wasn’t a total State. There were different tribes, who were fighting for superiority. Azon was the first king who gathered these tribes and made one state with them. Supposedly, each tribe had their own gods. The winner Azon brought his own gods and established their worship in Kartli. During Parnavaz’s period, we have no information on them. We only know, that in  “Life of St. Nino”, they were placed near the most important pagan idol of Kartli - Armaz. Taking into consideration all facts, V. Vatsadze is sure, that in this case it is difficult to identify Armaz with Ahuramazda, because in his opinion, the idol, similar with Ahuramazda, is strange for Georgian writing sources. V. Vatsadze agrees with K.Kekelidze’s opinion. He thinks, that the author of “Life of St.Nino”, really describes god Mythra and not Ahuramazda. On Vatsadze’s mind, describing a fighting Ahuramazda was a mistake of naive writer’s fantasy.  If we look through “Mykhr - Yasht”, his idols and relief illustrations reached by us, it will be visible that Armaz is really illustrates Mythra. Mythra in different sources is illustrated with Kauto, Kautopat, Srosha and Rashnu. First two deities had function of morning and evening illumination, last two helped Mythra to struggle   with evil (  Myths  of  world people 1988:15). These functions are characteristic to Gats and Gaim, which were located near Armaz-Mythra and nominated as golden and silver idols in Georgian sources. By symbolism, gold is a symbol of the sun, silver is a symbol of the moon (Tressider 1992:123). Their nomination as belligerent gods and searchers of hidden secrets, directly shows their connection with Srosha and Rashnu, which seemed to be judges under dead souls with Mythra in Chinvant bridge. V.Vatsadze hopes, that after entrance of Zoroastrian deity in Kartli, old Geogian’s idols Gats and Gaim became Georgian equivalents to Kauto-Kautopat and Srosha and Rashnu. It is evident, that before religion power of Armaz, Gats and Gaim seemed to be the main idols in Georgian Olymp. Afterwards, Cult of Armaz shorten their influence, but still left for them an important place near him and preserved several their function as they were most important old idols for the population of Kartli. (Vatsadze 2006:282).

    Another pagan god, Itrujan (Etrojano, Itrushana), is also presented in “Life of St. Nino”.  By text, when all idols were destroyed, most of people thought, that it was done by Caldean god, Itrujan. According to the legend, Armaz sent water to kill Itrujan. In this saying, Itrujan is similar with double of Noe - Ksisutr, or Ksisior. In N.Marr’s opinion, for the author of  “Life of St. Nino”, term Caldean is a synonym with generally Semit idol-worshippers. It is clear, that near Semit pagan idols in Georgian pantheon we can see Caldean god. N. Marr thinks, that Itrujan is the third god in Georgian pantheon after Gats and Gaim, which is of Semit origin. K.Kekelidze hopes, that Itrujan is Iranian deity, not Semit. (Marr 1903:10). 

   By N.Marr, an idol of Afrodita, is mentioned only by writer of “Chronicles”. By “Chronicles”, this idol was brought in Georgia by Greek Sephel, wife of Georgian king Viro. Nothing is said about this idol in “Life of St. Nino” and in “Mokcevai Kartlisai”(Marr 1903:15).   

       By “Life of kings”, king Saurmag and Mirvan, who built a sacred place for Armaz, added two more idols to Georgian pagan pantheon. Saurmag   -  Ainana, Mirvan - Danina. In Marr’s opinion, these idols were also Persian, because they were brought in Georgian pantheon, by “Cult of Persia” protector kings. These kings made a separate, important place for these idols in Georgian pagan pantheon (Kartlis Tskhovreba 1955: 320).

       Finally, we can make a conclusion to this issue.  We saw, that by “Life of St. Nino”, there were only four pagan idols in Kartli: Armaz, Zaden, Gats, Gaim. By “Mokcevai Kartlisai” they were 6: Gats, Gaim, Armaz, Zaden, Ainina and Danina. By historical “Chronicles”, we can count 7 idols if we also passed Afrodita in this list. In the “History of Armenia” 7 gods are presented. (It is evident, that this author depends on literal legends more, than folk legends). N.Marr hopes, that in “Chronicles” we can see richer information about Georgian pagan faith and gods, than in other sources. We can find information about luminaries worship by Georgians, which was remarkable for old pagan Kartli(Marr 1903:19).

    N.Marr hopes, that Georgian pagan pantheon, as it is described in Georgian “Chronicles” and “Life od St.Nino” includes only Semit and Iran gods, not local, Georgian gods (Marr 1903:14).

      We hope, that Georgian pagan pantheon, which is presented in “Life of St. Nino”, presents a mixture of Georgian and Persian deities. It is evident, that old, Georgian pagan idols were confused with Persian, Mazdean idols. This fact confirms, that Georgian ancient paganism and Mazdaism, by Christianity, is considered to be total paganism and therefore, Christianity opposed with them together.

     By “Life of St. Nino”, after rising up a Christian cross in Kartli by St.Nino, pagan idols  destroyed by wind and thunder. It is remarkable, that defeat of paganism in Georgia produced according to the Christian thinking of middle centuries. Concretely, god illuminates miracles, which executes by saints. In “Life of St. Nino”, Nino makes miracles with the help of God. Nino is saint. She comes in Georgia by the mission of god, for spreading Christianity, the only true religion. For this purpose, her aim is to destroy pagan pantheon there and God helps her in this action, by divine miracles.

        Finally, we can say, that it should be a very difficult process for Nino to spread Christianity in Kartli, because pagan pantheon was strong and powerful there. Most of population in Kartli, especially people, from mountainous regions, had pagan mentality for a long time and, they refused to receive Christian religion. For this occasion, Nino had to make physical battles with them with the help of Royal family of Kartli. Christianity, in Kartli, had to battle with both sorts of paganism together: with traditional Paganism and Mazdaism. In spite of difficulties, by divine miracles and theoretical polemics with paganism, St. Nino, realized her mission and Kartli became Christian. Most of population there finally recognized the importance of Christianity in comparison with worship of soulless creatures.                 



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Volume 4, Issue 1


Rustaveli Institute of Georgian Literature

Georgian Electronic Journal of Literature